Many Americans are cutting back on their sugar intake to promote their health, often turning to artificial sweeteners in order to enjoy a sweet treat without the guilt. Derived from both natural and chemical ingredients, these sweeteners promise to fulfill their duties of being sweet without calories. Some of the artificial sweeteners out there have become popular among people on low or no sugar diets, while others have caused controversy. So which artificial sweeteners are safe and which should we stay away from?
Aspartame is probably the most well-known and most controversial artificial sweeteners out there, added to many sugar-free foods such as light flavored yogurt and diet sodas. Made from phenylalanine and aspartic acid, this alternative to sugar was at one point accused of causing brain tumors. While studies later showed this to be untrue, aspartame still remains controversial. Since people with certain genetic disorderscannot break down phenylalanine, it is not safe for them to consume. That is why you see warning labels on food products containing the sweetener.
Another popular artificial sweetener is called xylitol. Also known as sugar alcohol, this sugar alternative tastes as sweet as sucrose but has 33% less calories. While praised for its work in sugar-free gums and mints to prevent tooth decay, xylitol is not totally clear. Consuming too much of this sweetener can lead to water retention and laxative-like effects. It is suggested that people do not overdo it with this one.
The artificial sweetener that has been getting all of the buzz lately is stevia. Derived from the stevia plant, this natural sweetener has been used in some countries for hundreds of years. It is calorie free and very sweet, yet some people complain of a bitter aftertaste. For this reason, people often mix stevia with other artificial sweeteners. Many popular diets that ban table sugar, recommend stevia as the best artificial sweetener to aid in weight loss.
But do artificial sweeteners help people lose weight? Scientists are pondering this as sugar alternatives have been used for some time now, yet obesity levels continue to rise. This may be due to brain activity and less with the sweeteners, since our brains often desire “real” sugar. More studies will need to be done on the efficacy and benefits or hazards of artificial sweeteners since every person’s reaction to it is different. For now, try out some sugar-free alternatives for a tasty treat that won’t end up on your waistline.
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